Just a perfect day

The last day of a week’s holiday, and another day out with the birds.

We started the week at the London Wetland Centre – very cold and gloomy, and notwithstanding recent sightings of Bitterns, we didn’t see any (we always arrive at a hide to be told, “You should have been here five minutes ago; you’ll never guess what we have just seen . . .”) – but plenty of Snipe, Tufted Duck, and Coot.

Wednesday was another cold but bright day at Slapton Ley and on the beach at Thurlestone. Shovellers, Tufted Duck and a solitary Little Grebe in the reeds by the Slapton Hide, and plenty of Canada Geese and more Tufted Duck on the water. Robins everywhere, and a Sparrowhawk through the bushes at the edge of the Ley, upsetting the troupe of Longtailed Tits that was bowling along the edge.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Thurlestone – we had to stop in Kingsbridge, where I was living when Caroline and I first met, and stop at the deli at the top of Fore Street and visit Pig Finka.  The marshes behind the NT car park were frozen and there was very little duck around. Instead, there were Oystercatchers and Turnstones on the rocks edging the beach, and a wonderful sunset.

Today we have been at Roadford Lake. We didn’t know quite what to expect – we last visited in January 2009, and had then seen little (and been rained on). This time was different: in the woodland and along the edge, Nuthatches, Great, Blue, Coal, Marsh and Longtailed Tits, Greenfinch, 6 Bullfinches and half an hour later another 9, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker chased off by a solitary Raven gliding through the canopy, Crows, Rooks, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, Dunnock, Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, Redwings, Goldcrests, Robins and Wrens – and on the water, Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Widgeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Herons, Great Crested Grebes and a Little Grebe, Shag, 3 Goosanders, and in the last light of late afternoon, a pair of Goldeneye below the bridge.

A perfect day.

Thurlestone Rock and a calm sea
From the bridge at Roadford Lake

Great Crested Grebes

One of the discoveries this past year has been the writing of Mark Cocker. In the 1970s I never missed Harry Griffin’s Country Diary in The Guardian, and walking in the Lake District in the early autumn of 2005, Caroline bought me A Lifetime of Mountains, Martin Wainwright’s selection of Harry Griffin’s best columns. It was reading those that persuaded me to begin these Dartmoor Letters. But it was not until I bought Caroline A Tiger in the Sand, in anticipation of our birding week in North Norfolk in late January, that I realised that Mark Cocker has been a regular Country Diary columnist for nearly twenty years. It shows how long it has been since I read The Guardian (and is almost enough to make me change the daily paper).

In his Introduction, Cocker speaks of the “emotional charge of the encounter, the deep fulfilment that flows from our engagement with our fellow creatures”. As we walked  up at the Hennock reservoirs this morning, I thought of the piece I had just read, and in particular

“Nothing we do to capture our encounters can quite match up to the living reality. It will always evade and exceed our imaginations, whether it is a tiger in the jungle or a blackbird in the garden. This is where I believe writing on nature, in its various forms, is wholly distinct from a particular kind of wildlife television. Moving images of wildlife often far exceed, in terms of dramatic content and physical closeness, our own modest experiences of nature. They leave nothing unspoken, nor hint at any wider experience and, in a way, seek to replace our experience of the genuine article and become a substitute satisfaction.”

Last Sunday we had also been at Hennock but then in late afternoon. As well as seeing six plus Bullfinches, we also saw Crossbills in the treetops in the plantation alongside Tottiford Reservoir. This was a first for us at the Reservoirs. Hoping to see the Crossbills again, we drove this morning to Trenchford. As it turned out, no Bullfinches and no Crossbills. But instead we watched a pair of Great Crested Grebes, close to the bridge over the Trenchford stream, beginning their courtship. At one moment necks intertwined, at another synchronised diving; water weed offered by one to the other and then returned. It was quite magical.